Gulf Coast ports are hunkering down for the late-season storm Ida, with larger vessels set to take extra precautions and shipping brought to a standstill even as the tropical storm appears to be losing strength in the Gulf of Mexico.
Ida was downgraded Monday from a hurricane to a tropical storm, and all hurricane watches and warnings along the Gulf Coast were discontinued as of 9:00 a.m., according to the National Weather Service. Maximum sustained winds are near 70 miles per hour with some higher gusts. The storm is expected to weaken further as it nears the coast.
However, a tropical storm warning remains in effect from Grand Isle, La., to the Aucilla River, Fla.
Tropical storm conditions are expected somewhere within the warning area within 24 hours. At 9:00 a.m., Ida’s center was about 185 miles south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River and about 285 miles south-southwest of Pensacola, Fla. Forecasters set the highest probability of landfall between Mobile Bay and Panama City, Fla., according to the Coastal Weather Research Center.
The Mobile captain of the port late Sunday set Port Condition Yankee for all waterways from mile marker 40 to 432 of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, including the ports of Gulfport, Miss.; Pascagoula, Miss.; Mobile, Ala.; Pensacola, Fla.; and Panama City, Fla. Condition Yankee is established when gale force winds are predicted within 24 hours.
All oceangoing vessels and barges above 300 gross tons are required to depart for open ocean or submit a checklist and mooring plan for remaining in port to the Coast Guard, and no vessel movements are permitted within the port unless cleared with the captain of the port.
As of noon Monday, all operations at the Port of Mobile will cease, according to port spokesperson Judith Adams. By 3:00 p.m. all facilities will be secured, rail operations will cease and no ships will remain at the bulk terminal or at the Theodore Ship Channel.
The New Orleans captain of the port set Port Condition Yankee as of 6:00 a.m Monday. The Mississippi River below Pilottown was closed by the Bar and Crescent Pilots at 10:00 p.m. Sunday night. The Bar Pilots expect to resume vessel traffic Tuesday morning, according to the Gulf States Maritime Association. Approximately 30 vessels are waiting to enter the lower Mississippi River, and 32 are waiting to exit.
The Port of Gulfport, Miss., was not preparing to evacuate for Ida. After consulting with NOAA, the Mobile captain of the port of the Port and Harrison County Civil Defense, “We are securing and moving equipment and preparing for wind gusts of 35 to 50 miles per hour and tides of from five to seven feet,” Executive Director Don Allee said.
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